Doctoral Dissertation Research: Exclusion and the Social Construction of Citizenship

Project: Research project

Project Details


How do members of a religious minority understand their belonging in a nation-state where they face an ambiguous citizenship status and increasing persecution? What role does social class play in shaping these understandings? In what ways do transnational religious and family ties affect the way citizenship is constructed? My project will explore these questions by examining the paradoxical citizenship of young adherents of the Ahmadiyya faith in Pakistan, in relation to both the Pakistani state and the increasingly global workings of the Ahmadiyya administrative body, the Jamaat. Looking at religious affiliation – in conjunction with other modalities of belonging such as social class – as a crucial determinant of how citizenship gets “taken up,” my case study of Pakistan’s Ahmadis will contribute to social science scholarship on citizenship, state-making, the politics of religious freedom, and everyday practice of religion by attending to the quotidian experiences through which young urban citizens marked by their religious difference learn the gap between membership and belonging.
Constitutionally designated as a non-Muslim minority against their will and legally barred from laying claim to signs of Muslimness, Ahmadis are confronted with a tradeoff between their right to be acknowledged as law abiding Pakistanis on the one hand, and as Muslims on the other. While the community has led a vulnerable existence since the promulgation of these laws by the Pakistani state in 1984, the years since 2010 have witnessed an unprecedented intensification of Ahmadi persecution.
Focusing on discursive, embodied, and material comparisons of past and present experiences of religious practice and persecution, my ethnographic research for this project has three main objectives: 1) Examine how everyday activities and discourse reveal the manner in which increasingly visible public opposition to a community’s religious identity and practice shapes its young members’ understandings of citizenship and belonging; 2) Observe and document exchanges regarding experiences of public religion and particular comparative imaginings of the state among urban middle class youth across religious and sectarian boundaries in order to understand the role played by social class in shaping such understandings; and 3) Further analyses of the social, economic, and political implications of global religious movements by investigating how transnational religious ties and engagements foster new ideas of citizenship and belonging among migrants’ home communities.
Intellectual Merit: By bringing together related but often-separate strands of literature, my dissertation research will contribute to two bodies of anthropological and broader social science research. First, my examination of Ahmadiyya citizenship as a tradeoff between the legal status of “citizen” and the freedom to profess and practice ones faith will provide insights into the ways citizenship can entail simultaneous inclusion and exclusion for religious minorities. My proposed research will also enhance literature on transnational migration by drawing attention to how transnational religious engagements foster new ideas of citizenship and belonging among members of the migrants’ home community.
Broader Impacts: My proposed ethnographic exploration of citizenship construction among young Pakistani Ahmadis will complicate academic and institutional understandings of what “exclusion” of religious minorities means. My proposed ethnographic exploration of citizenship construction among young Pak
Effective start/end date9/1/148/31/17


  • National Science Foundation (BCS-1424025)


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